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The Multi-Faceted Damages of the Construction Freeze

Knesset conference on construction freeze: "Barak must be stopped!" and "Even if the freeze ends, we must ensure that construction resumes."
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 6/28/2010, 6:35 PM

MK Yaakov Katz, head of the National Union party, chaired a conference in the Knesset auditorium Monday on the topic of the damage caused by the freeze on Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria.

In attendance were Knesset Members – among them several who had not been asked to speak – as well as heads of local and regional councils throughout Judea and Samaria.

The issues that were addressed included political methods by which to fight the freeze, educational damage, economic costs to individuals, towns, and the entire country, legal aspects and compensation.

First to speak was Dr. Aviad HaCohen, Dean of the Sha’arei Mishpat Academic College  and a former member of the left-wing religious-Zionist Meimad party. He spoke of the legal issues, noting that the Supreme Court played along with the government in ramming through the freeze in record time. The freeze order was implemented within two days of the Cabinet decision, and though suits against the freeze were filed almost immediately, the Court proceedings were dragged out to the extent that a ruling was handed down only five full months after the freeze was already in effect.

Strange Formulation
In addition, HaCohen noted the strange formulation of the Cabinet decision, which stated that the freeze was in order to “encourage the negotiations with the Palestinians and with regional countries, and also for other diplomatic reasons.” He said that these phrases were unclear and raise more questions than they answer. “The Supreme Court’s response was as expected,” HaCohen noted, “that it would not interfere in diplomatic issues. But this case was not only diplomatic or political – it involves a strike at the civil rights of many individuals.”

Next to speak was Ron Nachman, now in his sixth term as mayor of Ariel, who mentioned that in his city, “27 factories and plants have stopped building because of the freeze… How is it possible that in cities like Ariel, Maaleh Adumim, and others, the same freeze should apply? We should be growing! This is a ridiculous policy…”

Up to the Likud!
The former Likud MK said that it is solely up to the Likud MKs to ensure that the freeze is not renewed. “The Likud must wake up and realize that this freeze is like a second Gush Katif, and pass a law against the freeze. This is the only way.”

Likud MK Danny Danon did not agree, saying, “The public must be involved and give strength to the national camp to change the direction.” He mentioned the efforts he and MK Uri Ariel (National Union) have made to ensure compensation for those who lost money because of the freeze, but said, “I am ashamed that I had to be involved in such a law. If Netanyahu would have told the voters that he was planning to freeze building in Judea and Samaria, he would not have been Prime Minister now, and I wouldn’t be a Knesset Member…”

Dayan: Freeze Gives Substance to Two-State Solution
Yesha Council Secretary-General Danny Dayan: “This government has done two cardinal things: Netanyahu’s Bar-Ilan speech in which he promised two states, and this freeze. The freeze is worse, in that it gave substance to the declaration! Had there been no freeze, the declaration would have remained just words – which are also bad… But the freeze significantly increases the danger of a Palestinian state.”

Dayan criticized the coalition for allowing Defense Minister Ehud Barak, of the splintered Labor Party, to make his own decisions regarding the freeze – “including, possibly worst of all, a freeze on all future zoning and construction planning! This and other things were not included in the original decision, yet he unilaterally included them in the freeze – and the coalition is letting him do it!”

At this point, MK Michael Ben-Ari interrupted and said, “You are letting the Prime Minister off the hook too easily,” to which Dayan responded, “It’s a question of interpretation. I believe I’m right, and that Barak is the tail wagging the dog, but it could be you are right as well.”

Dayan made two more important points: “Where are all the civil rights organizations? In Israel, the major topic of talk is civil rights, even for our enemies – so why is everyone so quiet in this case? …. And what about the educational damage inherent in the fact that Jews are not permitted to build a home in Shilo or Beit El? A hundred educational programs by Education Minister Gideon Saar, which are welcomed in and of themselves, cannot make up for the educational damage caused by such a directive.”

Barak also has been accused in some quarters of planning to replace many IDF soldiers with Border Police in several places in Judea and Samaria in order to avoid having to use the army to quell expected protests if the building freeze is extended.

Freeze May End - and Then What?
MK Carmel Shama of the Likud said he heard Netanyahu say on several occasions, of his own volition, that the freeze would not be renewed when it expires in September.

Katz (Ketzaleh) said that this is not enough, noting that the freeze could stop but Netanyahu might tell Obama that he will make sure that construction does not resume.

Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas stated on Saturday that he would consider agreeing to direct talks with Israel for the creation of of the PA as a new Arab state in four months, just when the building freeze is to end.

Urban Planning Problems
Dr. Boaz Barzilai, an expert in urban planning, said that Israel is considered a world expert in this field, “as we are one of the few countries that continues to build new towns.” He explained that freezing construction in general causes various economic problems in the affected region. “In Judea and Samaria’s 153 towns, there are some 300,000 people, with an annual growth rate of 5-5.8 percent - which means that 3,000 new housing units are needed each year just to cover the natural growth. The lack of these 3,000 units – out of 40,000 needed throughout the country – is a significant proportion, and contributes to higher prices throughout Israel, among other problems..."

Baruch Brenner, an importer of construction materials, spoke of the financial harm done: “I note a 70 percent a drop in the purchase of building materials in Judea and Samaria,” he said, among other similar statistics.

Freeze in Jerusalem, Too
Economist Moshe Haba of Jerusalem spoke of the unofficial freeze on construction that exists in Jerusalem. He said that even before the freeze went into effect, housing starts in Jerusalem decreased drastically, and that this is liable to lead to a decreased Jewish population in the country’s capital. “In 1967, Jews were 72-74%, and now we are some 62 percent,” he said. “Just ten years ago, an average 3-room apartment in Jerusalem cost 570,000 shekels – and now it costs 1.05 million shekels.”

Ben-Ari: The Larger Picture
MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union) said “Whoever thinks that we should keep Tel Aviv and the coastal plane while the Arabs should keep Shechem (Nablus), received his answer today, with the discovery of an Al-Qaeda terrorist cell in the Galilee. This entire land is ours, and wherever we abandon, extremist terrorism comes in and takes our place.”

Breiman: The Lie of Settlement Blocs
Ron Breiman, former Chairman of Professors for a Strong Israel, saluted Ketzaleh for correcting those who speak of 300,000 Jewish settlers: “As you always note, there are not 300,000, but closer to 650,000 settlers – because those who live in [the liberated areas of] Jerusalem are settlers in every sense.  It’s important to talk in big numbers.”

“It’s also important to stop talking of ‘large settlement blocs,’” Breiman said. “People think that the Palestinian Authority will ‘let us’ keep our large settlement blocs. But the fact is that they’re not large! Gush Etzion and Ariel may be larger than the little towns around them, but they’re not big – and the PA won’t let us keep them, if they have the chance. So let’s stop using these terms, which are nothing more than a lie.”

Optimistic Note
Ketzaleh ended on an optimistic note, saying, “Certainly G-d will save us from our own folly, as He has done in the past. This period is simply a downturn that will spur on even more and stronger settlement growth in the future, as we have seen happen many times in the past.”